Web 2-0

5 Takeaways from GE’s internal social networking efforts

I just finished reading a great interview with Ron Utterbeck from GE, covering the company’s internal social networking efforts and am once again amazed at how this technology is revolutionizing how we work.  GE is using it to consolidate a mish mash of collaboration tools its people were already using and with great results.  Believe it or not, guess what?  Your people are also using these tools to connect, chat, exchange ideas, share files and eliminate road blocks to their productivity - whether or not you approve of them doing so!  Don’t believe me?  Get with the program! There are quite a few takeaways from this interview, but five that I feel bear stressing.

1.        Have a goal. 

Deploying an internal social networking tool, like any strategic technology investment, should have at its core the solution of a problem or the achievement of a goal.  This tidbit cannot be stressed enough.  And we’re not talking SMART goals here as we do with our training programs, or goals of meeting a specific ROI target as a result of the initiative.  You need goals that stretch the capabilities of what your people can achieve collaboratively by using the technology as opposed to continuing to operate as you have been.  If the tool doesn't help your people achieve stretch goals, its value proposition will diminish in the eyes of your users and usage will drop.

2.       Brand it.

Although this didn't really come up in the interview with Ron, branding the tool will give it a personality and the right branding could spell success or failure.  The branding should be aligned with your goals for the social network, as well as the values you wish to promote throughout your culture with the tool.  Want to increase collaboration and improve employee engagement?  Heck, launch a contest and have cross-functional teams of employees develop the brand for you!  What better way to engender them to it and give them a stake in its success.

3.       Start small, launch fast.

Organizations at times have a tendency to treat internal products and services as they do their client facing ones in the sense that it doesn't get rolled out until it’s perfect, polished, and has undergone numerous rounds of quality control reviews.  Only then do they see the light of day.  Yet, in this instance, getting it out there and gathering input should be the priority.  The main reason- the organization has no way of knowing beforehand how its users will use the network, and which features will gain prominent use in the network.  It’s important to get it out there, and track what works and what doesn't, and based on user requests for functionality develop and improve on the platform’s capabilities.

4.       Let users drive the evolution of it. 

Social networks should evolve iteratively based on users’ demands on the network and the value gained from prioritizing certain improvements over others.  Or, as Orwell would have it- All improvements are equal but some improvements are more equal than others.  There is no way that management can anticipate the many ways its people will use the network, and should therefore allow the growth and evolution of the platform to be driven by feedback from its users.  Notice how GE launched with a small group of power users and provided easy to use feedback mechanisms to learn what was working and what users wanted to see.

5.       Training is essential.

Being a highly collaborative team of instructional designers, we couldn't help but notice GE’s emphasis on training their people on using good judgment when using the network.  It might be tempting to cut the proverbial corner and deploy an internal social network without it- but be familiar with the risks and liability you are exposing yourself to by doing this.  You can expect inappropriate information to be shared for all to see, maybe even confidential business plans without this crucial component of the rollout.  Is this really a risk you are willing to take?  We don’t recommend it, and encourage you to contact us for a brief conversation about your training needs for the project.

"We believe social media and online communities can be a great way for GE employees to share expertise and perspectives with their family, friends, colleagues, customers or potential employees around the globe or down the street. But it’s important to know what should or should not be shared. We teach them the basics and how to use good judgment."  -Ron Utterbeck

Internal social networks can be a blessing for your corporate culture.  GE is realizing tremendous benefits from its ability to leverage the company’s collective knowledge and so can you.  Developed and deployed properly, your business stands to gain insights about your employees, your products, and your customers that you would have never gleaned otherwise.  This knowledge can become an incredible business driver, and can give you a competitive advantage in your market.

Alex Santos
Alex is a co-founder and Managing Member of Collabor8 Learning, LLC, an instructional design and performance management consultancy. His firm collaborates with organizations to enhance the way they develop  and train their people. To learn more about Collabor8 Learning, click here.

Alex can be reached at 786-512-1069, alex@collabor8learning.com or via Twitter@collabor8alex.

Accelerate your business

So... you took a long, hard look at the reasons Why you want to try out social technology and one of your goals is to accelerate some portion or process of your business. It could be as simple as you have a very short time frame in which to roll out a new product or service, and have to find a way to do it faster without losing the quality your customers have come to expect. Some examples of projects or goals that could be accelerated include:

  • You are introducing a new and very large software application,
  • Your intranet is stale and your web development team is buried and can’t get to it to keep it fresh enough for it to be valuable to your team,
  • A large policy document needs a rewrite and you need it done quickly, or
  • You need to document a business process or system.

Rather than going with traditional development options for a project like this, let’s take a look at how one particular Web 2.0 technology can help you achieve your business goal faster than going with a traditional business response.

A Wiki, named after the traditional Hawaiian word for "fast", is an option you can use to meet any of the goals of projects like this in a very short period of time. A Wiki is a web document created by and editable by more than one person, typically powered by one of many Wiki software platforms available on the market. Access controls and rules can be easily imposed on contributors. How could a Wiki accelerate the rollout of a very large software application?


Traditionally, a technical writer, trainer, or engineer is assigned the task of developing the documentation required to serve the population of end-users that will likely have to use this new and very large software application-bottlenecking the implementation of the system until it is ready. Rather than going this traditional route, a Wiki can be used to democratize the process. What do I mean? Well, rather than have an individual of small group of individuals develop this documentation -a Wiki would allow for contributions to the documentation to be made by ALL of the members of the roll-out team, up to and including end-users! Every developer on the project and every end-user would be able to contribute to the document, much as you are able to edit articles in Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that is arguably the largest and most popular Wiki project on the planet.

From a Human Resources perspective, a Wiki has many benefits as well.

  1. Engagement. Besides accelerating your project, by involving more of your employees and giving them “skin in the  game”, you get more engagement from a greater number of your employees,
  2. Cohesiveness/ Teamwork. A tenet that distinguishes a group of people from a team is a shared goal or objective. By making everyone responsible for the document, you are going to get a more cohesive team.
  3. Quality. Again, making everyone responsible for the quality of the document spreads out the responsibility from a few to the many. This has the effect of community policing to ensure the company is putting its best foot forward, and generally increases the quality of the output.

Can you think of some of the other benefits that implementing a Wiki would have for your organization?

Alex Santos
Alex is a co-founder and Managing Member of Collabor8 Learning, LLC, an instructional design and performance management consultancy. His firm collaborates with organizations to enhance the way they develop  and train their people. To learn more about Collabor8 Learning, click here.

Alex can be reached at 786-512-1069, alex@collabor8learning.com or via Twitter@collabor8alex.

Social networks, not always a Field of Dreams

Many organizations are implementing policies to manage employee interaction with social media in the work place.  However, leading organizations are implementing their own social platforms.  These platforms feature the same communication tools that the big social websites offer, connecting person to person.   But these organizations are using them to increase the type and quality of communications among employees via internal Blogs, Wikis and through sharing documents and information.   But the real secret to their success lies in their execution. The predecessor to the enterprise social network was the intranet.  The difference between today’s technology and yesterday’s intranet was in the complexity for the user.  The corporate intranet was far more complex to use and required a much steeper learning curve.  Because of this complexity many had difficulty properly executing and maintaining its use.  Employees were often forced to use it.  Many, due to its shortcomings came to rely on email to serve as there document share, their data collection and communication tool.

So how does an organization ensure proper execution of their new social platform?  First you have to realize that today’s social platform is not like yesterdays complicated intranet.  Your employees already engage on social networks.  They are all, whether there a public or an enterprise social network, user friendly.  There is no better example of their ease of use than the growth in the number of grandparents who are connecting online with their kids and grandkids.

Believing that execution is easy would be shortsighted.  It’s not without it’s own challenges.  As an organization implements theirs they need to make certain that it’s done correctly.  It does take a change in the thinking of the employee and many are reluctant to change their emailing ways.  That old adage of “If you build it they will come” does not hold true without good relevant content.  Content is what drives social media.   Don't make the mistake of launching a bare social network.  A core group of supportive users will develop the initial content enabling a larger roll out.  Driving and developing this early content is where proper execution lies and it can easily fail.  A controlled roll-out within an organization so that the platform develops naturally, with guidance, is the best plan for success.

Through proper execution the platform will take off within your organization.   It will deliver an increase in the quality of communications and idea sharing that cannot be measured in dollars.  As Jef Vandecruys, Global Project Leader Digital Connection said:

“It is important to measure the actual implementation of social media in projects.  It’s not just the theory that matters; the true value is in the execution.  The very first KPI of 'social' is not about monetary value, it’s measuring the evolutions in the internal knowledge.”

If you learn drunk, work drunk!

When I was a student at University in a class on psychology I was taught State Dependent Learning.  This says that whatever state a person learns in is the state where they will have the best memory recall.  The example given: “If you study drunk then take the test drunk”. Yet in learning we often take the person out of their normal environment, place them in a classroom away from their work station, give them a bounty of information and expect them to execute on what we tell them back on the front lines.  There are two fundamental issues with this strategy:

1)      Most people that are required to attend training often walk into class with the perception that it has very little relation to their jobs.  It’s an environment where these trainers “have never done it”.  Many managers promulgate this negative perception through their comments and by not actively reinforcing the training.


2)      People do not learn effectively when provided with too large a volume of information.  Couple that with training departments that are rarely given ample time to train employees effectively.  What you often find are trainers forced to present a lot of information in a very short period of time.


What is the solution to this training dilemma?  The answer is that we need to change the way in which we deliver training, and the value that it has among the worker.  Trainers know that when training you first tell them what you are going to tell them, then you tell them, then you tell them what you told them.  We do this to place the emphasis on the key concepts and highlight the takeaways.


Bob Mosher in his blog post, The Tie That Binds states:

“The topics move from simple to complex throughout the experience.“

Meaning that in a formal training situation we build from small concepts to larger ones, the same way that they teach in elementary school.  Schools have years to teach this way, trainers normally only have a few hours.  But that is not how adults learn and if we want to maximize memory recall and achieve increased performance we need to provide training that mimics the environment in which they work.  This is not to say that we can, or should do away with formal training, quite the contrary.  What trainers can do is to follow up their formal learning with more informal learning.


Bob Mosher goes on to say:

“…we need to reconsider the positioning and design of our solutions outside of formal instruction.”

Informal learning has one distinct advantage over the formal.  It takes place each day, in the work environment.  It happens when a co-worker shows another how to do something or when a manager corrects an action of an employee.

The real question is how do we leverage these interactions?

The answer comes from technology and what seems like a natural forum for people to interact:  The enterprise social network.  Integrating training with an enterprise social network allows an organization to continue and to reinforce the training.  The training department can continue learning with additional information through the use of blogs, wikis, and through the use of external links to pertinent information.  They can pose questions to the participants and monitor the responses to check for learning and understanding.  They can monitor the communications and comments from users to make certain that they are implementing the material correctly.  An enterprise social network fosters communication throughout the organization increasing collaboration and learning.

Yesterday’s training strategies are being supplemented in most organizations by social learning, thanks to the availability and low cost of a social networking platform.  Placing the learning squarely where employees feel most comfortable learning and where they learn at their own pace and from each other. Here, they can ask questions and can immediately and easily apply the new knowledge to their job. If you’re not making use of this technology at your organization, what are you waiting for- your competitors to go first?


Thinking about buying a franchise? Ask if they're social.

Bart Puett, President and CEO of Maid Brigade, Inc wrote a great blog post entitled “Evaluating a Franchise Training Program: Five Essentials to Ensure Your Potential Franchisor Will Provide Adequate Support“ Reading his post inspired me to ask the question “If they're Social?” If you are evaluating a franchise ask how they incorporate social media into your training and ongoing success.

Intensive Pre-Opening Training Your pre-opening training will usually involve physically attending a training class. But ask what pre-training is offered. Most people learn best when material is presented in several smaller modules. But this is not practical when you travel to an intensive training. Training becomes more effective when it combines pre-training learning activities, classroom training and follow-up to address retention and transfer. This pre- and follow-up learning is easily delivered online via e-Learning and social interactions.

Mentoring Mentoring is a great form of social learning. When a new franchisee has questions, can they contact a “mentor” franchisee to get answers? My mentor benefits from this relationship by becoming better at their own job. It is the oldest form of training. It’s how parents train their kids. The challenge in this is that everyone does not make a good mentor and there not always engaged in teaching. Sometimes there just too busy running their own business. The solution is to have group mentoring (social mentoring) where you post questions to the group and those with the answers can share. Then as people add to the knowledgebase, it grows and becomes more valuable to the community of franchisees as a whole.

On-Site Team Trainers On-site team training is important. It gets the “pro” to your site and they have the ability to see the things that you as a new franchisee don’t. But the questions to ask are:

• How often will they visit? • How much time will they spend during each visit? • What are their goals for the visit? • How do these goals align with your needs? • What happens when they don’t? Can you add to the goals of the site-visit?

Your ability to consult with them at any time is important. What technology do they employ to engage with franchisees virtually? How simple and how quickly can you leverage this technology to solve your daily issues?

Franchise Consultants Consultants can help you run the franchise and are an important tool. How will you communicate with them? E-mail? Telephone? Which consultants stand out from the rest in your specific industry? Are there ones near you that have a proven track record of success? If so, are they rated somewhere? Where can you look them up? A strong franchisor either has all of this information already gathered, or is utilizing an enterprise social network to gather this data right from their franchisees who are in the front lines. An enterprise social network can be a huge benefit to a franchise system, but also to consultants as well. A consultant has the opportunity to share his or her expertise, and to become known and recognized as an expert in your industry through their engagement with a franchise system.

Ongoing Support and Training The best ongoing training and support happens When you need it, Where you need it and on What device you need it. Email, databases, newsgroups are all passé. The new way to support the franchisee is through a social network designed just for the franchise that offers the security to talk about operational issues privately and securely. An Enterprise Social Network gives your franchise the way to connect franchisees and deliver learning experiences far beyond what a ‘training event’ can. It also becomes a resource where you not only can research answers to your questions but also post new ones and join in on the conversation with other franchisees. Two heads are better than one, three are better than two and when everyone collaborates we all benefit.